Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World
This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in
the world by JSTOR.
Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries.
We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial
Read more about Early Journal Content at http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-
JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please
IX.— THE ENGLISH BALLAD OP JUDAS ISCAEIOT
Unusual interest attaches to the ballad of Judas, not
only because the manuscript in which it is found antedates
by two centuries the manuscript of any other English popu-
lar ballad, but also because the story it tells is very nearly
unique. The manuscript, Trinity College, Cambridge, B.
14. 39, was written in the 13th century; just where is
uncertain. 1 The ballad has been frequently printed, 2 but
not correctly until 1904, in the Cambridge Edition of the
Ballads. 3 It was Professor Child who first recognized the
1 The manuscript has had something of a history; cf. M. R. James,
The Western Manuscripts in . . . Trinity College, Cambridge, I, pp.
438 ff. (no. 323, § 17). Professor Skeat believed that the scribe was
a Norman. Dr. James suggests that "the occurrence of verses on
Robert Grosseteste may be construed as bearing on the provenance of
2 Wright and Halliwell, Reliquiae Antiquae, 1841, I, p. 144 ; Matz-
ner, Altenglische Sprachproben, 1867, I, p. 114; Child, English and
Scottish Popular Ballads, 1882, i, p. 242 (no. 23) and v, p. 288.
The Cambridge Edition of the Ballads says the Judas ballad was
first printed in 1845, but the first edition of the Reliquiae Antiquae
was in 1841.
* The manuscript has .it. at the end of lines 8, 25, and 30. Wright
omitted this sign, and did not divide the poem into stanzas. Pro-
fessor Child had seen only Wright's printed copy. In the Cambridge
Edition Professor Kittredge, who had a transcript of the ballad made
by Skeat after the manuscript was rediscovered in 1896, recognized the
atrophic device (indicated in the manuscript by .ii. ) of repeating the
last line of a stanza as the first line of the following stanza (as in
st. 5, 14, 17 ) ; but it is very curious that Professor Child apparently
recognized this device in stanza 14, and overlooked it in the other
two cases. — The language of the ballad is Southern. Following
Matzner, Child emended Wright's s in meist, heist e, etc. (lines 6, 19,
21, 22, 28, 31, 33, 34, of the Cambridge Edition) to h. In the Cam-
bridge Edition the s, which is the manuscript reading, is restored.
I think it is likely that the scribe miswrote s for i; at any rate, the
phenomenon is exceedingly odd.
182 PAUIX FRANKLIN BATJM
Judas poem as a ballad; but no one has questioned his
Ballads are, of course, of indefinite age. The ballad of
Judas, though we have it in writing so much earlier than
that of any other, is not thereby necessarily older. The lan-
guage, moreover, shows no sign of being earlier than the
manuscript. But although there is no direct evidence for
believing the ballad to be older than the thirteenth century,
there is, on the other hand, nothing to indicate that the
story may not be much older. Indeed, a priori considera-
tions point to its being very much older. And in view of
the fact that analogous — though not exactly parallel —
material turns up in Germany and in Africa, we may ten-
tatively suggest a possible relationship, and therefore, by
implication, but not necessarily, a very early date.
On Maundy Thursday (says the ballad) Judas sets out,
at our Lord's bidding, to Jerusalem to buy food, with thirty
' plates ' of silver on his back ; in the broad street he may
meet some of his townsmen. He meets his sister, the de-
ceitful woman, who ridicules him for believing in the
' false prophet ' and then induces him to go to sleep with
his kead in her lap — and when he awakes the silver has
been stolen. In utter despair he finds a rich Jew named
Pilate, and makes a bargain with him to sell his Master
for precisely the thirty pieces of silver that have been taken
from him. Then Jesus sits down with his apostles to eat,
and announces that he has been sold; and at the very
moment when Peter and Judas are denying implication
in the crime, Pilate arrives with ten hundred knights.
Professor Child mentions the tragic, (Edipodean tale
which the Middle Ages told as the life of Judas,* and he
*Cf. Legenita Aurea, ed. Graesse, ch. xlv. This legend is at least
as 1 old as the 12th century, and enjoyed an immense popularity
throughout Europe. I have been investigating its history for some
time, au.d hope to publish before very long the results of my study.
THE ENGLISH BALLAD OF JUDAS ISCAEIOT 183
summarizes the usual story of the thirty coins ; 5 but, as
he indicates, neither of these has any connexion with the
ballad. Very important, however, is the Wendish folk-
song to which Professor Child drew attention. 8 Here the
story is that the Highest God, wandering through the wide
world, came to the house of a poor widow, and sought shel-
ter. The widow complained that she had no bread in the
house, but He offered to buy some for thirty pieces of
silver, and asked who would fetch it. Judas volunteered,
and went out into the street of the Jews. There some of
his countrymen, who were gambling under a tub, invited
him to join them. Judas replied, " Whether I play or
not, I shall lose everything." The first two stakes he
won; at the third play he lost all. Then the Jews asked him
why he was so sad, and advised him to sell his Master for
thirty pieces of silver. — Jesus asks who has sold him.
John, Peter, and Judas say, " Is it I ? " and to Judas the
Master replies, " False Judas, thou knowest best." — Judas
was seized with remorse and ran to hang himself. God
cried after him, " Turn back, thy sin is forgiven." 7 But
Judas ran on, came to a fir tree and said, " Soft wood, wilt
hold me ? " He ran on, came to an aspen, and said,
" Hard wood, wilt hold me ? " He hanged himself on the
aspen, which still trembles in fear of the judgment day.
" According to the ballads, 8 then," says Professor Child,
" Godfrey of Viterbo, Pantheon, Part, xx; etc. And cf. Budge, Book
of the Bee, p. 95; and R. Duval, Litterature Syriaque, p. 116.
• Leopold Haupt und J. E. Schmaler, Volkssagen der Wenden, i, pp.
276-8 (no. ccr-xxxrv), Grimma, 1841. The term 'Wends' is here
used in the narrow sense, meaning the inhabitants of Lusatia (Ober-
' Cf. Pitrt, Fiahe, novelle e raceonti, Palermo, 1875, I, p. cxxxviii,
where after the betrayal Jesus says to Judas : ' Repent, Judas, for I
pardon you '; but he went away and hanged himself on a tamarind
* That is, the English and the Wendish.
184 PAULL FBANKLIN BATJM
" Judas lost the thirty pieces at play, or was robbed of
them, with collusion of his sister. But his passionate
behavior in the English ballad, st. 9, goes beyond all appar-
ent occasion. Surely it was not for his tithe of the thirty
pieces." 9 This last stricture is justified, although such
extravagant madness is conventional in mediaeval litera-
ture. Perhaps the author of the ballad was ' thinking
ahead ' and had in mind Judas's remorse for the betrayal
of Jesus ; or possibly by some accident of transmission the
ninth stanza has been transposed from a later part of the
ballad, now lost, where his final remorse was described.
The points of similarity between the two ballads are
numerous, and for the most part obvious. In both Judas
goes out with thirty pieces of silver, at Christ's bidding,
to buy food for the apostles. In both he meets with fellow-
townsmen in the city. In both he is tricked out of his
money, in the one case by theft, in the other by gambling.
In both his grief and despair are emphasized. In both,
of course, he sells Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; but
in the English ballad it is to Pilate, and he receives the
very money he has lost, while there is no indication that the
plan of selling his Master was suggested to him by the
Jews. In both there is the same quick transition to the
scene in which Jesus makes known to the apostles that he
has been sold. Peter and Judas, of course, deny all guilt
(the Wendish ballad adds John) — and here the ballads
diverge. In the Wendish, Judas is branded as the false
one; he suffers remorse and hangs himself, first on a fir
then on an aspen. In the English, Pilate arrives with his
'St. 9 reads:
He drou hym selue bi be cop, bat al it lauede ablode;
be Iewes out of Iurselem awenden he were wode.
This is just after he has become aware of his loss.
THE ENGLISH BALLAD OF JXJDAS ISCABIOT 185
knights (a variant of the scene on the Mount of Olives) ;
and the ballad breaks off. The complete version may per-
fectly well have gone on with an account of Judas' s re-
morse and hanging.
That the two ballads should agree in the main story is
to be expected, because they both follow Biblical tradition ;
but that, while differing in some respects, they should agree
in several non-Biblical details of incident and in structure
is truly remarkable. There is nothing, to be sure, in this
parallelism that cannot be accounted for by coincidence;
but it seems to me more reasonable to assume some sort of
indirect or distant relationship. Of just what sort, it is
idle to speculate without more data.
With these two ballads I should like to compare an
interesting fragment from the Coptic Gospels of the Twelve
Apostles, 10 which Origen considered to be, along with the
Gospel according to the Egyptians, the very oldest apocry-
pha, possibly even anterior to Luke. 11 Here it is the wife
of Judas who is at the bottom of all his villainy. Every
day Judas stole something from the bag and brought it to
his wife. 12 But she was a woman of insatiable avarice,
and when he did not bring home enough to please her she
would hold him up to ridicule. One day, because of her
greed, she said to him: "Lo, the Jews seek thy Master.
10 Patrologia Orientalis, n, 2, Les Apocryphes Coptes, I, Les tilvam-
giles des Douee Apdtres. Edited and translated by E. Revillout.
Taris, 1904. This fragment is the 5th, pp. 156-7.
u M. S. L. 13, 1802. Other Fathers regarded it as not so early.
a Compare the Provencal Passion, still in manuscript, in which an
early version of the usual legend of parricide and incest is found, at
the end of which Jesus promises to Judas's wife and two children
a tithe of the company's receipts for their support. MS. Bibliotheque
Nationale (Paris), nouv. acq. fr. 4232, fol. 32v. It must be remem-
bered, however, that this wife in the Coptic Gospel can have no con-
nexion with the mother-wife of Judas in the mediaeval vitae Judae.
186 PAUXL FBANKLIN BATTM
Deliver him to them, and they will give thee great riches
in return." Judas listened to his wife, just as Adam did
to Eve, and under the power of her evil eye went to the
Jews and bargained to sell his Master for thirty pieces
of silver. When he had received the money he took it to
his wife and said — . The remainder is lost.
The parallelism between this legend and the English
ballad is not particularly close, but the two stories have this
in common, that they both tend to shift the burden of guilt
from Judas himself to a woman, his sister or wife. This
tendency to shelter Judas or to palliate his crime is essen-
tially Oriental ; and although the Coptic fragment and the
English ballad may independently represent a sort of
attempt at motivation of the sudden incomprehensible be-
trayal, I am inclined to suppose some kind of relationship,
devious and distant enough, between the two.
Although we have no means of following the early his-
tory of this ballad material, we may naturally turn to the
Gospels as the ultimate source of part of it. The very ease
with which the incidents of both the English and "Wendish
ballads could have sprung from a popular distortion of the
Biblical history is a strong argument against the theory of
any closer relationship of the ballads than that of having
the same ultimate origin, — that is to say, of any relation-
ship at all. ' And yet I think one must overstress the ele-
ment of coincidence if one would deny the probability of
For the journey to buy bread the obvious source is John
4, 8. When Jesus met the woman of Samaria at Jacob's
well " his disciples were gone away into the city to buy
meat" — tva rpo<f>a<: aycopdaaxn. Since Judas was treas-
urer and steward, it was natural to choose him for the
errand. Moreover, in the Huldreich text of the Toldoth
THE ENGLISH BALLAD OF JUDAS ISCABIOT 187
Jeschu, 13 when Jesus and his companions are on the way
to Jerusalem, Judas offers to go to the city to huy bread. 14
The difficulty of the disciples in obtaining food is perhaps
reflected in the story of the miraculous feeding of the five
thousand, which both Matthew and Mark tell twice, 15 and
may have made a vivid appeal to the popular mind. 16
13 Sistoria Jeschuae Nassareni, Leyden, 1705, p. 53.
"Here it is an imaginary city, Laisch (Latium?). Cf. Samuel
Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach jiidischen Quellen, Berlin, 1902, p. 163 n.
For a somewhat analogous incident in the Koran cf. Krauss, p. 199.
15 Mt. 14, 15 ff.; 15, 32 ff. Mk. 6, 35 ff.; 8, Iff.
" A travesty of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand is found
in the Huldreich version, p. 51. On the journey from Rome to Jeru-
salem (the same on which Judas later went to Laisch to buy food)
Jesus, Peter, and Judas stopped at a small inn, and mine host had
only one goose to offer his three guests. Jesus then took the goose
and said, "This is verily not sufficient for three persons; let us go
to sleep, and the whole goose shall be his who shall have the best
dream." Whereupon they lay down to slumber. In the middle of
the night Judas rose up and ate the goose. When morning came the
three met, and Peter said, " I dreamed I sat at the foot of the throne
of Almighty God." And to him Jesus answered, " I am the son of
Almighty God, and I dreamed that thou wert seated near me; my
dream is therefore superior to thine, and the goose shall be mine to
eat." Then Judas said, " And I, while I was dreaming, ate the
goose." And Jesus sought the goose, but vainly, for Judas had
devoured it. — Similar tales are reported by Vansleb, who travelled in
Egypt in the seventeenth century. Cf. Gustave Brunet, Les ilvan-
giles Apocryphes, 2nd edition, Paris, 1863. The tale of a person out-
witting his two companions in this way is, of course, very widespread.
It is doubtless of Oriental origin, and got into the literature of the
West probably through the Disciplina Clericalis. Cf. Contes Moralises
de Nicole Bozon, ed. by L. T. Smith and P. Meyer, Soc. des anc. textes
frang., Paris, 1889, p. 293. It is one of the exempla of Jacques de
Vitry. Bozon tells it to illustrate the proverb : ' Qui tot coveite tot
perde.' M. Meyer believes that the Gesta Romanorum (Oesterley,
ch. 106) drew from Bozon rather than from Petrus Alphonsi. The
Alphabet of Tales, however, gives Petrus as its source for the story
(ccxxxvm, ed. by H. H. Banks, E. E. T. S., p. 166). Goedeke, Orient
und Occident, in (1864), p. 191, gives several other references, to
Eastern and Western versions, and shows its occurrence in jEsopie
188 PATJLL FEANKLIN BAUM
There is nothing in the G-ospels to suggest the sister of
Judas in the English ballad ; but in the early Coptic text
there is his wife with the evil eye and the inordinate love
of money. Here is apparent, as I have suggested, a desire
to shield Judas from the ignominy of having sold his Mas-
ter by making him only an agent; and the choice of a
woman to bear the responsibility of the crime is certainly
of a piece with the usual Oriental attitude toward women.
The general abuse of women which runs through so much
of Western novelistic literature is practically all of East-
ern importation. It is not at home in the West ; it is not
a popular motif there; and we feel therefore the more
justified, when we find an isolated instance of it, as in the
Judas ballad, in assuming an Oriental origin, — especially
when we can find an Oriental analogy. Note, moreover,
that in the ballad Judas's sister is not an evil woman, but
the evil woman (pe swikele wimon), as though she were a
person with a well-known history;, and that the Coptic
Gospel emphasizes by repetition the woman's bad charac-
ter : ' la malice de ses yeux et son insatiabilite . . . par
suite de l'insatiabilite et du mauvais ceil de cette femme.'
The role of Pilate in the English ballad can be nothing
but a popular corruption or misunderstanding of the Bib-
lical story medisevalized. Since he had a large share in
the destruction of Jesus, he might naturally have been the
one to pay Judas ; and as an important personage he would
of course be a knight. Judas's apparent anxiety to get
back the identical thirty ' plates ' which were stolen from
him is an exaggeration intended doubtless to emphasize
literature. (I am indebted to Professor Kittredge for references to
Goedeke, Bozon, and the Alphabet of Tales.) Judas's connexion
with this tale seems to be entirely limited to the East. In the
Toldoth, of course, it is part of his role always to get the better of
THE ENGLISH BALLAD OF JUDAS ISCABIOT 189
his remorse. How Pilate should be in possession of just
those coins is a point (unless it implies that he was an
accomplice of the theft) on which the narrator would sim-
ply say : so it was.
The other incidents of the ballad — so far as it goes — are
in essential agreement with the Gospel narrative. The
story of Judas's hanging on the fir and aspen in the
Wendish ballad has various folk-lore ramifications which
need not be discussed now. But one would certainly like
to know the close of the English ballad.
Beyond all doubt it is a far cry from first-century Egypt
to thirteenth-century England to nineteenth-century Lu-
satia. One might almost speak of the inherent improba-
bility of tracing any relationship among tales or parts of
tales so isolated and widely separated; and, to be sure, I
do not pretend to have traced, in any strict sense, such a
relationship. But the more one studies the mysteries of
comparative folk-lore, the more one comes to look upon
almost anything as possible, and to identify probability
with possibility. At any rate, a dim light is better than
none at all.
Pattll Fbanklin Baxtm.